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THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

This kind of Octoberfest is leaving a sour taste

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 20, 2011

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When he barged into the studios of 98.5 The Sports Hub last Friday afternoon, Red Sox owner John Henry claimed his ball club has been the target of a “media riot.’’

CEO Larry Lucchino, the man in charge of running the ball club, seconds that emotion.

“I agree with John,’’ the veteran executive said last night. “There has been a gross overreaction on the part of some of the media since the September collapse. In my view, certain members of the media are misleading the public as to the real causes and issues.’’

Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s certain that the Red Sox are still making too much bad news three weeks after the music died at Camden Yards.

I’m betting that Uncle Bud Selig is pretty annoyed with Boston baseball’s cirque du soleil. While most of America ignores this year’s Fall Classic, millions of rubber-neckers are still leaning out their windows to watch the skeleton frame of the Red Sox burning on the side of the road.

The hot issue for today is the status of general manager Theo Epstein.

We know he has worked out a deal to go to Chicago, but the Sox and Cubs have not been able to agree on compensation (Epstein is under contract to Boston for one more season). Amazingly, Epstein is still on the job.

“Theo does go into the office every day,’’ acknowledged Lucchino. “But Ben Cherington’’ - Epstein’s aide-de-camp, and the consensus favorite to take over - “is playing a larger role than he has in the past.’’

Most employees are walked to their car when they agree to go work elsewhere. Any worries about Epstein acting as a double agent?

“We haven’t encountered problems like that in light of the way we’ve been operating,’’ said Lucchino.

What is the status of the Epstein buyout?

“I’m not going to address any questions regarding negotiations with the Cubs,’’ he said. “It’s an issue of confidentiality we feel is important.’’

The delay is holding up both organizations. The Red Sox need to go about the job of finding a new manager and making roster decisions. Isn’t this stalemate preventing the Sox from moving forward with their baseball operation?

“I understand how people may perceive that to be the case,’’ Lucchino answered. “But there’s plenty of work going on on the baseball front.’’

Any need to clean house of the bad apples?

“I’m not going to answer that question,’’ he said. “It would be more appropriate to address that to a new general manager. And I challenge the premise. We have a number of good, intense, talented competitors on this team.’’

Which brings us back to the media riot. Tuesday’s bombshell was the report by Joe Amorosino of WHDH-TV that Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and John Lackey were drinking beer in the dugout during the season. This prompted a statement/denial from the Red Sox that was issued at 11:04 p.m. The statement included comments from the three pitchers, Lucchino, and ex-manager Terry Francona.

Francona?

It’s hard to remember any organization issuing a statement with remarks from a manager who was fired more than two weeks earlier. Did the Sox think about also getting reaction from John McNamara, Joe Morgan, and Butch Hobson?

Look at the statement carefully, and you’ll see that Francona and Lucchino covered themselves if it turns out to be true that the pitchers were drinking in the dugout during games.

Francona said he had never seen anyone drinking beer in the dugout in 32 years of professional baseball. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It means he never saw it.

The ever-lawyerly Lucchino referenced the denials of his three pitchers and said, “We accept their statements as honest and factual.’’

That leaves the three pitchers on the hook. Either they are lying or three independent (nameless) sources are lying.

It seems to be time for Beckett to come forward (how great is it that Beckett’s photo is on the wall of the Popeyes in Kenmore Square?). And let’s hope he can do better than catcher/captain Jason Varitek, who has adopted the “I see nothing’’ mantra of Sgt. Schultz.

In his interviews this week, Varitek sounded like a disgruntled player who didn’t like his manager. He sounded like a guy who wants to come back for another season. At any cost.

While we wait for more players to come forward, and maybe more dirty laundry, the important issue is the Epstein/Cherington announcement.

Diabolical types think the delay might be the Biblical mentor/protegé feud playing itself out one last time: Lucchino trying to make things tough on Epstein while he still has power over his former intern. Let’s hope not. There has been enough bloodshed already.

Maybe Uncle Bud will put a stop to the madness. It’s clearly not in the best interests of baseball.

As the “Who Cares?’’ World Series unfolds in St. Louis, the headlines and punch lines continue to pour out of Boston.

Did you hear the one about the NESN theme for the 2012 season? In the proud tradition of “We’re all in,’’ “We won’t rest,’’ and, “It’s called Bruins,’’ the Sox are going with . . .

“Stay thirsty, my friends.’’

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